They Died by Pearse’s Side

Guest Writer Simon Smith with a review of They Died by Pearse’s Side.

I was on my second guided tour of Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin recently when I picked up a book from the new 11 million euro visitors centre.  The cemetery is well worth a visit with many fascinating stories behind the graves on the guided tour.  1.5 million people are buried there.  32 of these people are volunteers who fought in the 1916 Easter Rising and it is their stories along with the 14 buried at Arbour Hill and around 20 or so others buried elsewhere that are the subject of Ray Bateson’s 2010 book entitled They Died by Pearse’s Side.

The book is published by Irish Graves Publications and is a praiseworthy attempt at documenting the stories behind the volunteers who died during the Rising.  Seven specific groups fought on the Irish side the most well known of which would be the Irish Volunteers, the IRB, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann and the Irish Citizen Army and two lesser known groups: The Kimmage Garrison and the Hibernian Rifles.  There were five identifiable groups on the British side also, mainly British military and police organisations.  The British Army numbered 2500 in Dublin when the Rising began, growing to 20,000 during Easter Week.  Many members of the British Army were Irishmen of course, while scores of men born in England fought on the Irish side. 

The first deaths occurred on the 21st of April and the last on the 3rd of August.  The first three were men who died whilst driving off a pier on their way to meet up with Roger Casement and the last death on the 3rd of August was of Casement himself.  The explanation of the car’s occupants’ demise is detailed and together with a photograph of the pier it is easy to see how the accident occurred.

The book is fascinating and gives a glimpse of how life was then and how the Rising was fought. With a focus on the background of each casualty and how they fitted into the overall picture I often found myself hungry for more detail.  However, due to the fact that most accounts of the fighting were given 25 years after the event this lack of elaboration is completely unavoidable.  Contemporary accounts and newspaper reports are used when available and add to the veracity of the text. 

Apologies for not elaborating on the following stories but I felt I had to mention them.  They are worth following up:

The story of how 14 non-combatants were murdered and buried in their own houses by the British Army after the fighting ended is shocking in its brutality but not surprising.  The British combatants lost many more men than the Irish rebels and many of the former were angry and therefore dangerous.  However, some of the volunteers speak well of their adversaries in some places, for example saying they fought “cleanly” and with “bravery” at Clanwilliam house. 

The O’Rahilly’s story is an interesting one.  He tried to stop the Rising but once it went ahead he took part with vigour, fighting to the death.

Also described is how a party of 15 armed rebels on bicycles engaged various groups of British Soldiers as they travelled around the capital. 

The book mentions John MacBride who featured in W.B. Yeats poem “Easter 1916” as the “drunken, vainglorious lout” who redeems himself after his mistreatment of Maud Gonne by giving his life for Ireland. 

The tale of the “First Martyr”, the only female on the Irish side killed during Easter week and given the epithet by Éamon Ceannt, in particular deserves further reading due to the chronicles of her famous ancestors.

Patrick Pearse was distressed to see the number of civilian casualties and this led him to encourage the others to agree to surrender.  He declared that 'If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom then our children will win it by a better deed.' 

As mentioned above, the leaders of the Rising who were executed are buried at Arbour Hill.  It is important to remember that of those executed by the firing squads James Connolly was only one of three who were invalids.  I won’t go over the details of their stories but they are particularly poignant.

The sequence of events is described first by battle site and then chronologically and photographs of people, places, buildings and memorials are placed helpfully throughout the book.  The witness testimonies from fellow rebels are fascinating and any discrepancies between these and other accounts whether they are from individuals, newspapers or academia are compared and contrasted in such a way that you can usually draw your own conclusions.  The author may seem pedantic at first with his use of the phrase “different version” of events when describing different accounts when there are no obvious contradictions but this approach is what helps you decipher the chronology and spot any inconsistencies when they do occur.  I found myself having to pay keen attention or re-read certain paragraphs to clear up intermittent confusion and occasionally I was left unenlightened.

The book details the names of those who lost their lives fighting for Ireland, who they were, their occupation, site of their grave, notes of any memorial and vitally how they died.  Some of the fallen rebels were buried on poor ground.  Some participants’ identities remain unknown.  Nevertheless the chronicles of even the lesser known or unknown soldiers are fascinating.  It is important that 100 years on, these men and the others who fought beside them are not forgotten, not for any political reason as any political reason can be argued against but for the historical record which is invaluable.

They Died at Pearse’s Side is a superb read, a source of interesting, stirring stories the richness of which can only be hinted at.  Ray Bateson thoroughly exhausts and collates the knowledge of the subject and he delivers an extensive historical record as accurately as possible.

The fear I have coming up to the centenary of the Rising is that authors may exploit the demand for reading material by writing books purely to profit but I haven’t discovered any examples so far.  I suppose you will have the journalists’ efforts; the academic books; some written by experts in the field or by descendants and the unwelcome efforts- those of the Revisionist school or maybe the unscrupulous who exploit the dead and their cause. 

This book is a fine example of a worthy read - informative, fascinating, practical and detailed. The atmospheric descriptions used paint a vivid picture, which together with examples of the mindsets involved present a sad indictment of the Ireland of today which is a far cry from the tenets of the rebel leaders who gave their country a chance.

Ray Bateson, 2010, They Died by Pearse’s Side. Published by Irish Graves Publications. ISBN 978-0-9542275-2-4.


  1. Great review Simon. Book is a bit of a treasure trove. Thanks for letting us have it

  2. Good and informative review Simon,totally agree with your view on the quantity and quality of books that will published coming up to the centenary,Ray Bateson knows his history and has published a number of other excellent books.I,m sure this will be well worth reading.

  3. I am only sorry I couldn't elaborate on some of the individual stories but I suppose that is the role of the book itself.

    One of Ray Bateson's works details the graves of Irish writers. I forgot all about his other books. I made a point of visiting Brendan Behan's grave again on my second visit to Glasnevin. It wasn't on the tour which focused on political lives, which was disappointing in a way. There were so many other interesting non-political stories on the first tour I was on.

  4. I was presented with this book as a gift from an old Dublin Republican only weeks ago. I enjoyed reading it and this review does the book a great service.

  5. Simon, That is an excellent review.
    The name of the book to me is a bit daunting, or, maybe I am missing something, maybe someone can correct me, Patrick Pearse was the first to be executed, followed by Thomas Clarke, In the naming of the book are they saying ,"Volunteers who had died by Pearses side before he was executed", sorry, Im a bit bewildered. I have the Book , "Belfast Graves", It has been updated so many times I lost count, I had to go onto the cain site to update it myself, As for Glasnevin 11 milion euros spent on it, that is food for thought in todays economic downfall, with all the cuts and 32 Republicans laid to rest in it, are they hoping to recupe that money and more through book sales, I am not an optimist, I am a realist. I shall wait to see what Negative/positive replies I get before I decide to Purchase the book. They did not give there lives for money nor fame, They gave there lives for there country to be free from oppression by the British.

    It is patriotism that stirs the people. Belgium defending her soil is heroic, and so is Turkey . . . . . .
    It is good for the world that such things should be done. The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefields.

    Patrick Pearse,
    Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country

  6. itsjustmacker, I suppose the visitors' centre is an investment to bring people to Dublin. It does seem a lot of money but when you think of all the money spent on vacuous projects it doesn't seem so bad. 30 million euros were spent on security for the Queen's visit to Dublin for example.

    I know the volunteers didn't fight for fame but we should remember them and their stories which deserve to be documented for posterity. Maybe precisely because they didn't fight for selfish reasons like fame or fortune.

  7. Itsjustmacker a cara they could hardly have stood by his side after he was executed

  8. That was a good review Simon-enjoyed reading it-

    I have never been on any tour of Glasnevin but have been around it a few times-great history- the only actual burial i attended there was that of the 10 Republicans who were re-buried At Glasnevin a few years back-

  9. Simon.

    I agree, those martyrs should never be forgotten, lets hope plenty of tourist flood in to glasnevin and all over Ireland.



  10. Michaelhenry,

    I think quite a few here would love to see you in Glasnevin!!

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  12. Sinn feins michael mcivor still using the name michael henry cowardly bastard.

  13. itsjustmacker, I wasn't advocating exploiting the volunteers' memory for profit or to attract tourists. Their stories have intrinsic, historical and cultural value. Money shouldn't enter into it.

  14. AM-

    " I think quite a few would love to see you in Glasnevin "

    lol- I hear the Republican plot is nice this time of year-


    Michael Henry is my name- i was called after two Republicans- my grandfathers- so i am proud to be your coward-

  15. Michaelhenry,

    a prudent way to handle the insults

  16. Simon.

    I never implicated you were doing anything like that, If anything in my post made you think that, I sincerely apologise.


    Your not fit to be buried in Glasnevin, furthermore , your not fit to be buried, I would presume a country lane for you, just outside Lisburn, do I know who you are!!! , I had a fantastic meal this evening with my whole family, I had the plesure of using the carving KNIFE!, I had a beautiful well done STEAK.

  17. hats off to you micheal glad to see your claim to fame is in your 2grandfathers name youd do well in a shark tank!

  18. Yeah Mickeybroy as Anthony said a prudent response and he is a master at that ,sometimes I think he sits on a block of ice,like most here I could gladly choke you at times then I realise that your viewpoint and comments are the end result of a massive con carried out by people as republican as Maggie Thatcher.a simple analysis of your party,s statements over the years will show how far away from the republican vision you have swung,and as most commentators now say quisling $inn £ein is driven by ego,greed,and the false illusion of power,I have no doubt you are proud of your grandparents and I would be to a cara,thats why so many of this generation carried on the struggle left off by those brave Irish men/women,and thats why we need to be clear exactly where we are going and following Qisling $inn £ein is a trip up a cul de sac.

  19. Marty,

    Michaelhenry's views are not those shared by most of us who use this site. It doesn't follow that he is not entitled to them and you have not suggested he should be denied the freedom to make his point. I think he is the worst possible advocate for his own cause. If Dixie is right, and I suspect he is, then the comments about Paul Quinn fall well below the standards public reps claim to hold themselves to. In terms of contributing to this blog it does not matter whether he is an SF member or not. He is being abused here in very personal terms and that is not where this blog wants to be. It is a very easy matter for people to deal with his argument or non argument as they might see it rather than resort to name calling. He is not the only one who uses a pseudonym when posting. He can hardly be taken to task for that alone.

    Ultimately people should use their own discretion in how they want to express themselves rather than have me police the discussion.

  20. Anthony .exactly I for one would be opposed to any form of censorship especially from elected reps like Mickeybroy,I am of the opinion that even Mickeybroy will eventually realise how DUPed his party has become and if we cant hear their opinions and thoughts then how can we ever hope to change them. I also agree that abuse is about as useful as Gerry Itwasntme,s little whistle.